A Failed Prophecy
In 2 Kgs 3 we find Jehoshaphat and two other kings consulting Elisha the prophet about an upcoming battle against the Moabites. Elisha calls a harpist and gets a word from the Lord. He says Yahweh would provide a valley of water for the armies of Jehoshaphat and his company (they had run out of water and were thirsty) and would “deliver Moab into your hands” (3:18). When these armies came against the Moabites they initially had tremendous success, just as Elisha had prophesied (3:24-26). But then the Moabite king sacrificed his firstborn son to the god Chemosh, resulting in great “fury” against Israel (apparently from Chemosh) which forced the Israelites to withdraw and go home.
Now, there is a good deal of debate about how (or even if) the sacrifice of the king’s son empowered Chemosh to rout the Israelites. It certainly isn’t a passage that sits easily with our contemporary worldview (or with the theology of many). But what intrigues me right now is the fact that the passage contains a failed prophecy. I’ve studied this passage a number of times in the past but never noticed this until today. The Moabites were not delivered into the hands of Jehoshaphat and his fellow kings.
This forces us to conclude that either Elisha’s prophecy was not inspired by God (that is, it was a false prophecy) or that Elisha gave a true, divinely inspired prophecy that ended up not coming to pass. It seems to me the latter alternative is more likely, especially in light of the fact that we find a significant number of similar “words from the Lord” in Scripture that don’t end up coming to pass. If we accept the latter interpretation, it means that at least some prophecies are flexible and that the future is partly open — even (sometimes) after future events have been divinely prophesied.
Think about it.